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Infections in Pregnancy

Some infections, even when they are mild, can have a big influence on your health and your pregnancy. Be aware of your health history and immunization status to protect yourself and your unborn baby.

If you are pregnant or are considering a pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about the risks of infection.

Toxoplasmosis

What is it?

  • a parasitic infection, often carried in the intestines of cats. You can become infected by:
    • contact with feces of an infected cat
    • eating raw or undercooked meat

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • an unborn baby can become infected with toxoplasmosis. This can lead to:
    • miscarriage/stillbirth
    • vision problems
    • hearing problems
    • learning disabilities
    • brain development problems

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • always practice good hand washing, particularly after handling cats, after preparing raw meat and especially before eating
  • do not clean the litter box while pregnant; have someone who is not pregnant do this task
  • cat litter should be disposed of in the garbage*, not in the garden (*check your municipal garbage collection guidelines)
  • use gloves when gardening
  • do not feed your cat raw meat
  • avoid stray cats
  • keep sandboxes covered when not in use
  • do not eat raw/undercooked meat

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

What is it?

  • type of herpes virus
  • can be spread by contact with urine and respiratory secretions of an infected person
  • often there are no symptoms
  • an infected person may experience mono-like symptoms. This can include fever and fatigue

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • an unborn baby can become infected with CMV.
    This can lead to:
    • miscarriage/stillbirth
    • motor disabilities
    • hearing problems
    • liver problems
    • vision/eye problems
    • problems with brain development

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • always practice good hand washing, particularly after contact with urine, respiratory secretions and saliva.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

What is it?

  • a bacteria commonly found in the vagina and/or lower intestine of 15 - 40% of pregnant women

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • the infection can be spread from mom to baby after prolonged rupture of membranes, during delivery, or through hand to hand transmission after delivery
  • it can cause a serious infection in the baby including:
    • sepsis (blood infection)
    • meningitis (infection of the fluid around the brain)
    • pneumonia

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • notify your doctor if you have had a previous baby with GBS
  • prenatal screening at 35 - 37 weeks gestation (swab of vagina and rectum)
  • antibiotic treatment at onset of labour for women who are GBS positive or who have had a previous baby with GBS

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is it?

  • Whooping cough is a vaccine-preventable disease of the upper respiratory tract caused by the bacteria Bordetella Pertussis. Symptoms include episodes of violent cough, characterized by a "whoop" while breathing in and commonly followed by vomiting. Pertussis can be spread easily through the air when a sick person sneezes or coughs or through direct contact with nose & throat secretions.

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • Pertussis is especially dangerous if the mother is infected in the last 3 weeks of pregnancy because she could pass it to the baby. Pertussis is most severe when it occurs in the first 6 months of life and can lead to a risk of serious infections, including pneumonia.

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • if you have not been immunized, stay away from anyone you may suspect has pertussis, particularly in the last trimester of your pregnancy
  • talk to your doctor about your immune status before becoming pregnant; you can be vaccinated for pertussis during pregnancy

More information

Fifth Disease (Erythema Infectiosum)

What is it?

  • Erythema infectiosum, slapped cheek, human parvovirus, and fifth disease all refer to the same mild illness. It is caused by a virus, the human parvovirus B19.
  • Fifth Disease is spread from person to person through saliva, sneezing/coughing and rarely blood. The disease is usually spread before onset of the rash. Frequently, a rash on the face appears which is intensely red with a "slapped cheek" appearance. A lace-like rash on the trunk, arms and legs may also be seen.

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • if a woman is infected in the first half of pregnancy, there is up to a 10% chance that she could lose the baby or have serious complications

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • always practice good handwashing, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions and saliva
  • talk to your doctor about your immune status

More information

Varicella (Chickenpox)

What is it?

  • a vaccine-preventable viral infection, characterized by fever, fatigue and itchy rash
  • rash appears as small red dots, quickly filling with clear fluid, then crusting over
  • it is very contagious, spread through saliva, sneezing/coughing, and contact with fluid from rash
  • most adult females have chickenpox antibodies from a previous infection; this can protect against a future infection

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • if you do not have the antibodies, you can catch chickenpox
  • if infected in the 1st or early 2nd trimester of pregnancy, there is a low risk of congenital varicella syndrome
  • if you catch chickenpox just before or after giving birth, your baby may develop a very severe infection

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • if you are pregnant and you haven't ever had chickenpox, stay away from anyone you suspect may be infected
  • talk to your doctor if someone close to you has chickenpox
  • your doctor can give you an injection of immune globulin (VZIG) to help prevent severe infection(this must be given within 96 hours of exposure to be effective)
  • if you are planning a pregnancy, talk to your doctor about your immune status. If you have never had chickenpox, there is a vaccine that may be given up to one month prior to becoming pregnant

More information

Rubella (German Measles)

What is it?

  • a viral infection that is vaccine-preventable
  • the virus is spread from person to person through direct contact with nose and throat secretions of an infected person or when droplets are inhaled from someone infected with rubella who coughs or sneezes

Why is it dangerous during pregnancy?

  • if a pregnant woman is infected early in pregnancy there is a high risk for miscarriage, stillbirth or severe birth defects (called congenital rubella syndrome)
  • congenital rubella syndrome occurs in up to 90% of infants born to women infected with rubella during the first trimester
  • the most common disabilities are blindness, deafness, mental impairment and heart defects

How can I protect myself and my baby?

  • always practice good handwashing, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions and saliva
  • before pregnancy, talk to your health care provider about immune status as there is a vaccine for rubella. The vaccine cannot be given during pregnancy
  • prenatal screening should be carried out if your immune status is unknown
  • if you are pregnant and have not been immunized, get vaccinated following pregnancy

More information

Resources:

  1. Redbook: 2006 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006)
  2. Control of Communicable Disease Manual. 18th Edition. Heyman. American Public Health Association. (2004)